A young girl searches for her missing father amid the criminal elements of the Missouri backwoods. This Sundance Film Festival winner, released by Roadside Attractions, was nominated for 4 Academy Awards, including Best Picture.
By CBSNews.com producer David Morgan
Ree Dolly (Jennifer Lawrence) is a 17-year-old girl in the backwoods of Missouri whose life is a threadbare regimen of caring for her invalid mother and two young siblings. The poverty of the Ozark community does not seem to faze her - everyone here is poor - and there is only slight embarrassment about asking for or accepting a neighbor's help, but also pride: As Ree explains to her brother, "Never ask for what oughtta be offered."
But survival in this hardscrabble community is not obvious or easy. Ree's young life has been strait-jacketed by her circumstances. Her situation turns even more serious with the disappearance of her father, Jessup, who is caught up with shady business dealings.
Just how shady becomes apparent when the police come looking - and everyone professes ignorance about his whereabouts.
Ree learns that prior to her father jumping bail for a drug arrest, he'd put up the family home as collateral for his bond. If he doesn't show up in court, she is told, the house will be foreclosed upon and her family evicted. With her mother incapacitated, Ree realizes only she can salvage the situation. But in order to find her father and convince him to return, she has to convince her extended family members to help.
... And as we see, the Dolly clan is a close-lipped bunch, distrustful of strangers and wary of the police - understandably so, given their involvement in the local meth-amphetamine trade. Ree tries to plead her case with the family patriarch, Thump Milton, but is rebuffed by Merab (Dale Dickey).
REE: Some of our blood at least is the same. Ain't that s'posed to mean something' - isn't that what is always said? . . .
MERAB: Thump knows you were in the valley, child. With Megan. And at Little Arthur's. He knows what you want to ask, and he don't want to hear it.
REE: And that's it? He ain't gonna say nothing to me?
MERAB: If you're listening, child, you got your answer.
One of the few relations Ree manages to attract to her cause is her uncle, Teardrop (John Hawkes), who himself has had run-ins with the law.
TEARDROP: Don't you ever go down around Little Arthur's asking them people about s--- they ain't offering to talk about. That's a real good way to end up et by hogs, or wishing you was.
REE: We're all related ain't we?
TEARDROP: Our relations get watered kinda thin between here and Little Arthur's.
Teardrop takes Ree to a local cemetery, to look for "humps that ain't settled."
You know you are in a dangerous community when the police are more afraid than the people they pull over. Thanks to Teardrop's cold determination we learn that the cops may know more about Jessup's role in the local meth trade than they are willing to reveal. "Is this gonna be our time?" he says, cradling a rifle.
Desperate, Ree tries to enlist in the military - one of the few viable options open to her, and one that offers a $40,000 signing bonus. But she is rejected because of her family situation.
To better prepare her siblings for life, Ree does her best to teach Sonny (Isaiah Stone) and Ashlee (Ashlee Thompson) how to be self-reliant, as she instructs them in how to hunt and skin squirrels. In these quiet, intimate scenes, we come to understand that this may be the only social safety net the family will ever experience.
In a brutal scene, Ree is physically assaulted by Merab and her sisters. In fact, if the code among the criminal elements is that men will not raise a hand to a young woman, the women of the family have no such revulsion towards violence.
Ree is told that she will be taken to her father, blindfolded, like a hostage. Is it merciful, or (she fears) only an excuse to bring her more harm?
In their Oscar-nominated adaptation of Daniel Woodrell's novel, director Debra Granik and producer Anne Rosellini have fashioned a sinister take on backwoods insularity - turning family values askew, not unlike turning a rock upside down to see the worms and vermin crawling underneath. With spare language, stark lighting and a muted soundtrack, the filmmakers give viewers a clandestine look into a small town singed by a pervasive criminal ethic.
Jennifer Lawrence (Ree) received a Best Actress Oscar nomination for her subdued but alert performance - her eyes and ears sifting the quiet for any signs of an answer to her probing questions. She has appeared in the TV series "Cold Case," "Monk," "Medium," and "The Bill Engvall Show." Her film credits include "Garden Party," "The Poker House," "The Burning Plain," and "Devil You Know." Coming up: "Like Crazy," "X Men: First Class" (as Mystique), and the Jodie Foster-directed "The Beaver," starring Mel Gibson.
Before his appearance in "Winter's Bone" earned him Screen Actors Guild and Academy Award nominations for Best Supporting Actor, John Hawkes was celebrated for three decades of stage, film and TV work. Among his more renowned credits: "A Slipping-Down Life," "The Perfect Storm," "Identity," "American Gangster," "Miami Vice," and "Me and You and Everyone We Know." His TV appearances include "ER," "The X Files," "Nash Bridges, "Touched by an Angel," "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," "24," Lost," and "Deadwood."
Filming on location in Missouri, the production used existing homes (including the burned-out remains of one), employed found objects as set dressing, and used minimal artificial lighting. They also hired many local actors, adding authenticity to the dialects heard.
"Winter's Bone" won the grand jury prize for American dramas at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival, while co-writers Granik and Rosellini won the festival's Waldo Salt screenwriting award for their script.